SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defended the Mormon faith Sunday, saying the beliefs and practices differ from every other church.
“The work is unique and wonderful,” Hinckley said on the second day of the faith’s semiannual conference. “It is fundamentally different from every other body of religious doctrine of which I know.”
Hinckley said men have struggled for generations to understand the nature of God. He added that he can’t understand the creeds used by most Christian churches. And non-Mormons have little understanding of the Salt Lake City-based church, which has grown to 13 million members in 176 nations and territories, Hinckley said.
Mormons gather twice yearly to receive spiritual direction and encouragement from church leaders. The two-day event draws thousands to Salt Lake City, home of the 13 million-member faith. The proceedings are also broadcast worldwide via Internet, satellite and radio in more than 90 languages.
Sunday’s session was opened with words from Henry B. Eyring, the newly appointed second counselor in the church’s First Presidency after 12 years in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was elevated to the post Saturday and will serve along with first counselor Thomas S. Monson, as Hinckley’s closest advisers.
Eyring replaces James E. Faust, who died Aug. 10 at age 87 and was known for his warmth and kindness.
“I always thought that when I grew up I wanted to be like President Faust … There may still be time,” Eyring said, drawing a laugh from those gathered in the faith’s 21,000 seat downtown conference center.
Like Hinckley, many of weekend’s speakers defended the faith as a Christian church despite the differences between Mormon theology and other faiths. The Mormon church disavows the Christian tradition of the Trinity — the belief that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one body — instead believing the three were individuals united in a divine purpose. Mormons also believe in the principle of continuing revelation, leaving their scriptural canon open.
Christians also break with Mormons over the faith’s central text, The Book of Mormon, which is said to be a testimony of Christ’s work in the ancient Americas. Mormons believe the text was translated by Joseph Smith from a set a gold plates found buried near Palmyra, N.Y., where the church was founded in 1830.
Smith’s translated Book of Mormon formed the foundation for what Mormons call the “restored” church as intended by God. The book is now published in 105 languages.
“Critics have tried to explain it. They have spoken against it. They have ridiculed it,” the church’s 15th president said. “But it has outlived them all and its influence today is greater than at any time in history.”
In recounting the faith’s beliefs, senior church members noted that “various crosscurrents of our times have brought increasing public attention” upon the church, including the 2002 Olympic Winter Games that were held in Salt Lake City. The candidacy of Mitt Romney, who ran the Games, for the Republican presidential nomination has also brought the church into the national spotlight.